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‘Sri Lanka: A new beginning’ at European Commission Conference

Neela Marikkar

Chairperson of Sri Lanka first, and Chairman and Managing Director of Grant McCann Erickson Neela Marikkar, has long been active and outspoken in her quest to involve the private sector in sustainable peace and development in Sri Lanka.

Invited to speak at the European Commission conference “Making a Difference” held in Brussels recently, Marikkar was among 1,000 policy makers and practitioners in conflict prevention and crisis response from the international community, who gathered to explore and identify effective approaches to the strengthening of crisis response capacities.

“When I was asked to address the distinguished gathering I was honoured. Reading into the background of the forum at which I would be speaking I was dismayed to note that Sri Lanka had been classified as a ‘fragile state’, which essentially means that ‘the social contract between the state and its citizens is broken’, I made it my mission to change this perception and make a case for our country as a confident, multicultural nation that had survived three decades of conflict with strength, resilience and fortitude,” Marikkar said.

Her presentation cited the country’s democratic values as well as high human indices which included its literacy rate, gender ranking, health care facilities provided by the state, ILO standard labour compliance, per capita income, as well as the year on year growth of the GDP.

The boost that was seen in the stock exchange within days of the end of the ethnic conflict, was also a factor that placed Sri Lanka well out of the fragile state category.

Sri Lanka’s vibrant parliamentary democracy in which elections for all government structures were held irrespective of the 30 year war, was also a central to her argument, along with the country’s effective judicial system.

Marikkar went straight to the heart of the issue by addressing the last stages of the war and the status of the IDPs - an issue that has been spotlighted heavily, and negatively in the international media “Yes, these last stages of the war have been immensely destructive and painful especially because of the tremendous suffering of the innocent Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire.

The 250,000 hostages held by the LTTE as human shields and subjected to death if they tried to escape; their subsequent evacuation probably one of the biggest humanitarian rescue operations ever by a military. Unknown to many,the IDP question is not new to Sri Lanka - in the early nineties the LTTE ethnically cleansed 100,000 Muslims from the Jaffna peninsula.

They were given two hours to leave the city or face death and they could take with them only the clothes they were wearing and no more than 50 rupees in cash,” Marikkar said.

“Today the IDP’s are housed in government refugee camps. In their midst, screening for armed combatants is an uncomfortable necessity for long term security. Once identified there is a plan to rehabilitate these combatants so that they can be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated into society.

Currently a policy frame work is being drawn up by the Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Management in partnership with ILO, relevant Ministries and the Private Sector for their social and economic reintegration, the aim of which is to persuade these combatants they can have a new life, one that is outside the theatre of war and armed conflict,” she said.


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